Mil­i­tary has new top gun

Com­man­der prom­ises decisive ac­tion to stamp out sex­ual mis­con­duct

Cape Breton Post - - CANADA - BY MUR­RAY BREW­STER

The Cana­dian mil­i­tary has a new top com­man­der.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, a com­bat vet­eran of Afghanistan and the coun­try’s for­mer oper­a­tions com­man­der, has been sworn in as the chief of de­fence staff, re­plac­ing Gen. Tom Law­son, who is re­tir­ing af­ter al­most three years in the high-pro­file post.

The mil­i­tary has been seized with the find­ings of a spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ha­rass­ment and sex­ual as­sault within the ranks and Vance used his inau­gu­ral speech to un­der­line that in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour will not be tol­er­ated un­der his com­mand.

For­mer Supreme Court jus­tice Marie Deschamps, in a sear­ing re­port re­leased in April, said sex­ual mis­con­duct is “en­demic” in the Cana­dian mil­i­tary and that the lead­er­ship has tol­er­ated abuse.

Vance says his first pri­or­ity will be to take care of the troops, and the is­sue of ha­rass­ment is at the top of the list.

“I do not like the idea that any­body — even a sin­gle per­son — would have to come to work any­where in the Armed Forces, or even work­ing with us, (with) that sick feel­ing in their stom­ach that they’re go­ing to be at­tacked, de­graded, or have their dig­nity stripped from them,” Vance said in an in­ter­view.

“I’m go­ing to ad­dress that hard be­cause I think it af­fects our morale. It is some­thing I will lead very per­son­ally and very quickly.”

There is a lin­ger­ing per­cep- tion — both pub­licly and within the rank and file — that the mil­i­tary isn’t se­ri­ous about the kind of re­form that would stamp out what Deschamps de­scribed as a highly-sex­u­al­ized, macho cul­ture. While Vance wasn’t spe­cific about how he would deal with it, he com­mit­ted him­self to liv­ing up to the re­port.

“I hon­estly value the Deschamps rec­om­men­da­tions and I will put a great deal of energy into meet­ing or ex­ceed­ing the let­ter and the spirit of those rec­om­men­da­tions,” he said.

Law­son, Vance’s pre­de­ces­sor, fed the no­tion of in­dif­fer­ence with his oc­ca­sional but tonedeaf public com­ments about the “bi­o­log­i­cal wiring” of sol­diers. And in memos he sug­gested some of Deschamps’ ideas could fall by the way­side.

The im­age of a de­tached mil­i­tary lead­er­ship is deep-rooted and not con­fined to head­line­grab­bing al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct. Both the Harper gov­ern­ment and Na­tional De­fence have faced re­peated storms of crit­i­cism over sui­cides and the treat­ment of vet­er­ans — is­sues that have the po­ten­tial of haunting the Con­ser­va­tives in the up­com­ing elec­tion.

CP PHOTO

Gen. Jonathan Vance (left), the new chief of de­fence staff, and De­fence Jason Min­is­ter Jason Ken­ney ar­rive for Vance’s change of com­mand cer­e­mony in Ot­tawa, Fri­day.

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